High oil prices this winter mean families using propane or heating oil, both petroleum-based products, could face a pricey winter. In the Midwest, the average heating winter bill will run more than $2,100 — 26 percent above last winter, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The hurricanes battering the Gulf Coast may also lead to higher fuel costs, as Hurricane Katrina did in 2005. The Gulf’s offshore crude oil production accounts for about a quarter of total U.S. production. The region also produces a substantial portion of the nation’s natural gas. So, if you are thinking about buying or upgrading your wood heating stove, now is the time to do it!
Depending on the style, size and accessories you choose, a wood stove can cost between $500 and $3,000. Accessories — which include firestarters to get the blaze going, a heat-powered fan to pump warm air through your home, and aÂ hearth tool set — are easy to find and affordable; and the fuel to run one — fallen trees and chopped-up logs — is inexpensive and readily available. You do the math — if you can save $500 per winter by using wood heat as a secondary source for your home, you can amortize the cost of your stove in three to five years. If you use only wood heat, that number drops to two years or less.
As with any product, there are a few things you should know before you buy a wood heating stove.
- Buy the right size stove and chimney for your home.
People often purchase too powerful a stove for their home. An oversized stove is a potential fire hazard, because it’s often operated in an extremely “slow fired” condition, which leads to creosote buildup. And that increases the risk of chimney fires. Ask yourself two questions.
- How much heat should it supply: enough for one room, or the whole house?
- Where do you want to install it?
Your stove will need a professionally installed chimney that is safe and efficient. Even if your current home has a chimney, it might not be the right size and this could add substantial expense to your stove purchase. Chimneys can vent through the roof, or through an outside wall, but it is important to get the proper chimney for your stove.
- Burn seasoned hardwood.
Hardwoods are generally broad-leaved deciduous trees which carry their seeds in seedcases. Softwoods are generally conifers, like pine trees. When burned, softwoods produce more creosote and tar than hardwoods. This material deposits in the chimney, partially blocking it and increasing the fire risk. Therefore, use hardwoods whenever you can.Season your wood before burning. Up to 50% of the weight of green wood can be moisture, which has to be burned off before heat can be released into your house. Seasoned wood burns hotter and more efficiently, helps decrease the amount of creosote buildup in your stovepipe, and saves you money.
Depending on how much sun and wind your woodpile gets, it can take a year or more to season your wood. This means you have to plan ahead. You should always be chopping and stacking one year in advance, unless you have another source or you plan to buy firewood.
Seasoned wood is lighter and grayer than green wood — you can feel the difference just by picking up a log.
- Take care of it and your stove will last a lifetime.
Make your fires small and hot. This burns volatile gases more quickly, producing fewer safety hazards and air quality problems than a fire that is big but smokey. Smaller, hotter fires mean more frequent loading and tending the stove…but the improved efficiency and air quality are worth the effort.
Install a stack thermometer on the stove flue. This will help you monitor the temperature of the gases as they leave the stove. Optimum range for most efficiency and least pollution: about 300Â° to 400Â° F.
Inspect your stove. Once or twice a year, depending on how often it’s used, your entire stove and chimney should be inspected. Look for warping, check the baffle to make sure there are no gaps, check for creosote. Your dealer can make regular inspections, and so can a chimney sweep.
Buy the most efficient design you can afford. It’ll pay for itself in the long run.
Research has made great strides in designing fireboxes, drafts, catalytic combustors and other devices that improve combustion and reduce smoke. Maybe it’s time to retire that old “smoker” and modernize. And get it professionally installed!
Burn only the proper fuel. Don’t burn coal in a wood stove, for example, unless your stove was designed to handle both wood and coal. Trash shouldn’t be burned in your stove either. It’s not an incinerator — it’s a heater.
And finally, enjoy it. After all, your children won’t have fond memories of sitting around the furnace playing board games. But they will always remember the distinctive, homey ambiance of the wood stove.